Monday, December 1, 2008

Review : American Buffalo

American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon by Steven Rinella. Spiegel & Grau (2008).
[release date: December 2, 2008]

This was the perfect Thanksgiving time read. The U.S. lays claim to the symbolism of several animals including, of course, the turkey. Then there is the eagle, a symbol of freedom and strength, that beat out the turkey to become our national bird. The buffalo conjures images of the American West and our pioneering spirit. Though the buffalo is fraught with American symbolism, I had never given much thought to its history and relationship to humans.

In American Buffalo: In Search of a Lost Icon, Steven Rinella charts the course of this symbolic animal through American, and pre-American, history. After years of fascination with the American buffalo, Rinella won a coveted permit to hunt one in Alaska. American Buffalo begins with his success in the hunt and then takes us back to his first personal encounter with a buffalo.

Rinella is skilled at making the history of the buffalo on the North American continent both interesting and relevant. His search for the buffalo's meaning has taken him across the country several times making for a personal connection throughout his narrative. Interspersed with the buffalo's history is Rinella's hunting tale, which is also compelling. I can't imagine being alone in the wilds of Alaska yet felt as if I were right there beside Rinella.

I grew up in northern Indiana with a hunting father so Rinella's detailed description of his hunt, and more specifically, his kill didn't really bother me. If you are anti-hunting or have a weak stomach, you may have difficulty with some of the later passages in the book. This is just fair warning, however, because I still think you should read this book. Rinella gives great insight into the American buffalo and its ties to our history. I'll be watching for future contributions from this author.


  1. I'm not crazy about hunting, but maybe I could skip that part. Thanks for the review.

  2. It really isn't bad until the very end after he kills a buffalo...there is just a fairly graphic description of him breaking the buffalo down (butchering it) in order to get it out of the Alaskan wilderness. You'd probably just want to skip that part.